Giving Black women a place at the table is only the start

October 19, 2021 | By Dana Cox

When it comes to boards of directors, Black women are woefully under-represented. We hold only 4.5% of board seats in companies in the Russell 3000 Index, and the situation isn’t much better in the nonprofit world, where Black directors hold only 7% of board seats.

Companies and organizations promising to do better by the Black community need to have Black women in the room where it happens. Without our voices and perspectives, boards will struggle to build a more equitable world.

I’ve seen the power of having Black women at the top table. Four months ago, I joined the board of Connecticut Main Street Center, a nonprofit working to revitalize my state’s downtown areas as the social and economic beating  hearts of their communities. As one of the few Black people (and only Black woman) on the board, I was able to speak up for the needs of Black small-business owners and make sure that we as an organization listened to all voices, not just the white ones.

That experience inspired me to join Boards for Impact, part of Mastercard’s In Solidarity work to close the racial wealth and opportunity gap, both inside and outside our walls. Boards for Impact initially opened to rising women leaders at Mastercard. This year, it has been expanded to encourage Black executives to find and serve on nonprofit boards that speak to their desire to do more good in the world.

The training led me to New York-based Custom Collaborative, which helps low-income and immigrant women from more than 20 countries develop the skills they need to set up their sustainable fashion businesses. The nonprofit resonated with me because my single mother often created one-off designs for me as she upcycled secondhand clothes. I know she would have benefited hugely from a program like this.

We all bring something unique to the boardroom table. I’m using my 20-plus years of project management experience to help my board improve hiring procedures, structure new initiatives and plan for significant fundraising events. I ask the hard questions up front to better navigate and prepare for risks while ensuring that other board members’ ideas become a reality.

We need to have a wide range of perspectives, and having ethnically diverse boards does more than just tick a few boxes. While the flurry of appointments of Black people to boards in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests are encouraging, we need to make sure the momentum grows and organizations realize it’s not enough to have one token person of color.

Giving Black women a place at the table is only a start.

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Dana Cox, senior vice president, Global Delivery Enablement